What to consider with cannabis
Cannabis can be a hazy topic these days, but Hokie Wellness wants to make one aspect of its recreational use very clear.
In July, Virginia became one of 18 states, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize some level of recreational use of marijuana. Simple possession — up to an ounce — and home cultivation of cannabis are now legal in Virginia for those 21 and older, as the state works to create a regulatory framework for the sale of the product.
“It’s a big decision that 21-year-olds now have the freedom to make,” said Annie Chalmers-Williams, Hokie Wellness’ Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator. “But it’s not without risk, and that’s the biggest thing they should know. There are physical health risks, mental health risks, and legal risks. So, there’s a lot to factor into those personal decisions.”
Evaluating risk and making decisions that benefit an individual mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing are a part of Student Affairs’ “This Year, Best Year,” campaign.
Federal law prohibits the use, possession, or cultivation of cannabis at educational institutions. The latter applies to students, employees, and members of the general public on all of Virginia Tech’s campuses and is consistent with university policy and the Student Code of Conduct.
Blacksburg Police Department’s Captain Brian Roe said that under the new law the department was focused on safety and education about the new landscape.
“We try to remind folks that since Virginia did not set up any quality control measures or distribution points, there is no way for people to know what they are putting into their system,” Roe said. “We have seen it in the past, and I am afraid we will see it again of people getting a hold of cannabis or cannabis products laced with an unknown substance.”
Roe said the Blacksburg Police Department also strongly discourages mixing cannabis with other intoxicants and is concerned about the potential for an uptick in impaired driving and a reduction of public safety.
Likewise, Virginia Tech’s Student Conduct Director Ennis McCrery said that while university policy will be strictly enforced by Student Conduct, much of that will continue to include helping connect students with campus resources.
“We’re really going to be pushing students toward education through Hokie Wellness,” said McCrery. “We’re concerned first and foremost for their well-being, period.”
As a part of this effort to promote the health and safety, Virginia Tech’s Student Code of Conduct encourages Hokies requiring medical assistance for themselves or others as a result of substance use to seek help. Conduct charges against individuals or organizations will not be pursued in most circumstances, according to the Statement on Self-Reporting and Bystander Intervention. For more information, email email@example.com.
Hokie Wellness has a wide variety of interactive programming and resources related to wellness issues ranging from body image and financial wellness to sexual health and substance use. The Virginia Tech Recovery Community is also available for students seeking support in leading a substance-free lifestyle.
Hokie Wellness and the Virginia Tech Recovery Community’s work with substance use was featured in the Spring 2021 edition of Virginia Tech Magazine.
Chalmers-Williams said Hokie Wellness was currently developing more cannabis-specific programming, similar to the educational programs they offer related to alcohol. But that shouldn’t stop any Hokie from reaching out for a one-on-one, confidential consultation, which they’ve been providing related to substance use for years.
“If you ever think you just want to talk to someone about your use, we’re here for you,” Chalmers-Williams said. “No matter if you’re considering partaking, using more than you meant to, or want to get involved with our recovery community. Whatever the issue, we can help you.”
Chalmers-Williams provided a handful of points to consider in the decision-making process related to the recreational use of cannabis.
It’s a personal decision
“We have a substantial amount of evidence that says some populations are at higher risks for cannabis-related adverse effects and they should absolutely not use,” she said. “Young people, pregnant people, those with a family history of psychosis and/or substance use disorders, are at a significant risk of developing serious problems.”
Chalmers-Williams also advised individuals to consider their physical health factors.
“It’s no different than using alcohol or other substances if you have medical issues. All substances tax the immune system and every organ in the body is affected.”
The supply is currently unregulated in Virginia
“Products with a really high THC content are generally associated with a high risk for mental and physical complications, both acute and chronic, but right now, you have no idea what you’re smoking or eating,” Chalmers-Williams said. “It’s like going into a bar and picking something up on a random table and drinking it. You have no idea what’s in it.”
She added this also raises the risk of acquiring cannabis that’s laced with another, often more harmful drug, such as fentanyl.
The laws can be confusing
“You need to know the law and understand all the university policies surrounding it,” Chalmers-Williams said. “We’re kind of in a weird place right now in Virginia. You have to be 21. You can have up to an ounce, but you can’t buy it in a store. You can gift it [provided it's an ounce or less], but you can’t sell it. It’s a lot, and if you don’t understand it all, you could get into a lot of trouble.”
Do not drive while under the influence
“That’s one of the biggest dangers right now with people using it,” Chalmers-Williams said. “Many people think they can drive just a short time after using, but cognitive impairment can last up to six hours after use by inhalation and even longer after use by ingestion or with higher doses or higher potency. No one should drive while under the influence, and definitely don’t combine it with other substances.”